Who: No. 7 Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC) vs. No. 10 Florida (5-0, 2-0)
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Line: Auburn by 2 1/2.
Series record: Auburn leads 43-38-2.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
A first loss for one the Southeastern Conference’s five remaining undefeated teams. Considering both still have to play No. 5 LSU and third-ranked Georgia, the loser could have a tough time making the league title game and the College Football Playoff.
Florida’s offensive line vs. the Auburn defensive front: Most would consider this a giant mismatch in the Tigers’ favor, and it probably is. The key for Dan Mullen and his offensive staff is trying to find a way to coach around it, like they successfully did a year ago against a dominant Mississippi State defensive line in a victory at Starkville. That probably means bubble screens, quick passes and jet sweeps by the wide receivers. Because it’s pretty much a hopeless situation if the Gators take a conventional approach and try to line up and run right at the Tigers. That would be all risk and no reward because this AU defensive line may be the best in college football, one that gives up little on the ground — just 95.2 yards a game. And everyone knows what a struggle it’s been for this inexperienced UF offensive line trying to generate a running game. If the Gators couldn’t punch any holes in an FCS defensive front, which they didn’t last week against Towson, they have no hope of doing so today. Mullen has to try and coach around it. His approach will be interesting.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Auburn: Sophomore RB JaTarvious Whitlow is averaging 92.6 yards a game on the ground and ranks second in the league with seven touchdowns, including at least one in each of the last four weeks.
Florida: Senior LB Jon Greenard is wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. He’s tied for the league lead with four sacks, but he also has 6 1/2 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is back calling the offensive plays after taking several years off and letting his offensive coordinators do it. It’s certainly worked out well so far. Even with a true freshman starting at quarterback, Malzahn’s offense is humming along nicely, averaging 38 points and 454.4 yards a game. The Tigers are really hot heading into The Swamp, coming off a 56-point performance against Mississippi State last Saturday. “I enjoy being involved,” Malzahn said. “I love working with our players on the practice field. That is really the highlight for me, just being more engaged. I enjoy that. I am not as bored; I can tell you that.”
Another Nix nightmare?
Patrick Nix, the father of starting Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, can certainly give his son some insight about playing in The Swamp. He ruined the Gators’ day 25 years ago, quarterbacking the Tigers to a 36-33 victory over UF, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation and a 16-point favorite. Nix threw the winning touchdown pass to Frankie Sanders in the south end zone in the closing seconds. It was Steve Spurrier’s first SEC loss as a coach at Florida Field. UF coach Dan Mullen said he’d never heard about that Nix moment in The Swamp. “Nope,” he said. “That doesn’t have a whole lot of affect on us beating Auburn this week. I don’t pay too much attention to that one.”
Teammates now foes
In what figures to be one of the key matchups of the game, it will be two former high school teammates going at it today — Florida cornerback Marco Wilson and Auburn wide receiver Anthony Schwartz. They were teammates at American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale. Schwartz, who is also a track star at Auburn, is considered the fastest player in college football. He’s become a dynamic playmaker as a receiver and as a runner on jet sweeps and end-arounds. He has the attention of Wilson and the UF defense, for sure. “Definitely a very fast guy,” Wilson said. “He’s a playmaker, so we’re going to have to look out for that guy, make sure we don’t allow him to get those plays that he’s been getting against other teams.”
Auburn is closing in on an NCAA record, but getting it will require a few touchdowns and a few more successful kicks. The Tigers have made 299 consecutive extra-point attempts dating to 2013. It’s the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Florida State holds the NCAA record of 302, set between 2012 and ’16.
RANKED ROAD WINS
Auburn is seeking its third win against a ranked team away from home. The Tigers, who already beat then-No. 11 Oregon and then-17th-ranked Texas A&M, have only done that five times and twice since 1983 (2004 and 2010).
The last time Auburn visited Gainesville (2007), Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator. But he remembers the 20-17 loss for a much different reason. Mullen had to have an emergency appendectomy the night before the game. His wife picked him up after the team’s walkthrough, sneaked him in a backdoor at Shands Hospital, got a few hours of sleep, ended up getting into a fender-bender on his way to the stadium and then called plays from the booth with his doctor nearby.
“It’s a pretty funny story,” Mullen said.
Today’s game questions
• Will Kyle Trask have enough time to execute the Florida passing game?
• Speedy Auburn receiver Anthony Schwartz has emerged as a dynamic playmaker in the passing game and on jet sweeps. Does he burn his home-state Gators?
• Can the Florida defense slow down Auburn’s downhill running game, which averages 251 yards a game.
• Can the Gators put some pressure on true freshman quarterback Bo Nix and force him into making some critical mistakes?
• Will the Gators rush for 75 yards or more against a dominant Auburn run defense?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Auburn 28, Florida 13
(Season record: 5-0)
FACTS & FIGURES
It’s the first game between the teams since 2011, a hiatus spanning more than 2,900 days. … Auburn has won three straight and four of five in the series. Florida has won 13 of the last 16 meetings in Gainesville. … The teams played every year between 1927 and 2002 (except for wartime hiatuses). … Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Florida’s Mullen are two of the five SEC head coaches who call plays. Both also wear visors as a nod to retired coach Steve Spurrier. … Malzahn went 2-3 against Mullen at Mississippi State. … Malzahn has beaten every team in the SEC except for Florida during his seven seasons at Auburn. … Florida expects to have six injured players back, including speedy cornerback CJ Henderson and disruptive defensive end Jabari Zuniga.
Mark Long of The Associated Press contributed to this report.